What makes Super Mario RPG’s music work so well is its mix of virtually everything good about music: It can somehow be both heavy and melodic at the same time, mixing catchy beats and swelling orchestra at the same time. While most good music has at least one of these elements, and many games have songs with some of these elements and other songs with the other elements, this game is one of the few to have all of these elements in individual songs.
Nowhere is this better present than in “Fight against a Stronger Monster,” the music that plays during minibosses, and what is hands-down my favorite video game song. It starts with marching drums, followed soon by shakers, and then a heavy organ begins to swell. The song continues tag-team between this heavy orchestra and a high-pitched instrument that sounds like a mix between an alarm clock siren and a high-pitched horn, ending each bar with a short scratch. The song ends with the organs gradually swelling into an apex, only for the song to begin again. It is hard to imagine how a song could fit everything in barely more than half a minute better.
If the other songs do not contain all of these elements in individual songs, they do at least provide them with the variety of the whole group: From the jazzy “Rose Town” and “Going Shopping in Seaside Town,” to the melodic “Grandpa and the Delightful Tadpoles” and “Let’s Go Down the Wine River,” to the symphonic “Still, the Road is Full of Dangers” and “The Merry Marry Bell Rings” to the beat-laden “Fight Against Monsters” and “The Axem Rangers Drop In,” to the heaviness of “And My Name’s Booster” and “Fight Against Smithy, Who Likes Transforming,” to the aptly named “Sad Song.” Hell, the game even has elevator music in the form of “Welcome to Booster Tower.”
Of course, when Super Mario RPG’s music is mentioned, the song that usually gets the most attention is “Beware the Forest’s Mushrooms,” a song that was even remixed for Super Smash Bros. Brawl (only to be left out of the final product); and though I would not consider it one of SMRPG’s strongest songs, it does match the general style Shimomura seemed to go with for this game, being both melodic and upbeat. Hell, this song somehow manages to be both rather dark and upbeat in the same tune, falling into rather foreboding-sounding strings around the twenty-second point, and then immediately rising back into jauntier notes.
Actually, one of the most interesting but subtle aspect of SMRPG’s music is the variety of instruments used: From the aforementioned scratch beat in “Fight against a Stronger Monster” (and a similar version in “Melody Bay” and “Grandpa and the Delightful Tadpoles”), to the tick-tocking in “Hello, Happy Kingdom!” the whistling in “Let’s Go Down the Wine River” and “Let’s Race,” the various horns I can’t even name in “And My Name’s Booster,” and… whatever that horn (?) that sounds like a frog gurgling in “Beware the Forest Mushrooms” is.
Interestingly, despite all of this variety, there is still a common sound (the particular orchestral instruments being the most conspicuous) among every song so that one can easily identify every song as part of the same game.